Late last year, we traveled to North Carolina for about a week for a mini-vacation. While we were there, we stopped in a small local bakery — quite good bread and pastries — and saw that they also had fresh pasta. We really thought about picking some up until we saw the price. We think it was $17.99/lb which took us aback, as we know what really goes into a pound of pasta (flour, salt, and a couple of eggs), so we didn’t buy any. Now, in fairness, this was a batch of porcini pasta, which means that it was made with an expensive dried mushroom, but, come on, $17.99?
Being scratchers, we filed away the idea of porcini pasta for future use. And, over the months it stayed there, floating around in our brains (along with the price tag), until one day, when we had a leftover egg white, which is, to us at least, a signal that we’ll be making fresh pasta. We decided that we’d try our hand at this pricy pasta. We didn’t think it would be difficult, and it wasn’t, as you’ll see.
Oh, and this is based on nothing other than our basic pasta dough recipe.
Eggs, from happy hens, natch. Feel free to use whites only, or yolks only, or both, or neither. Really. Your pasta will still turn out. It’s just richer tasting with eggs. Do you need to use extra-virgin olive oil (the good stuff)? No, not really; any light oil will do. Dried porcinis: even if you pick up a small bag at the grocery, this pasta will cost far less than $17.99 a pound, and, if you buy a large bag of dried porcinis through the Internet (they’re dried, so they keep a loooong time) your cost is way less. We’ve seen porcini powder for sale, but we’ve never bought or tried it, so, if you’re thinking that would be a good way to go, let us know how it turns out.
Procedure in detail:
Measure and grind. Measure out about 1/4 ounce (7 grams) of dried porcini pieces. It may look like a bunch, but, once you grind them, it’ll be about a tablespoon of powder. If you have one, grind in a spice grinder (we have a coffee grinder dedicated to this), or a food processor, or a blender, or a mortar and pestle. Or crush them finely with the back of a spoon. Whatever method you choose, try to get mostly powder, although a few small pieces won’t hurt. Put the powder into a medium bowl.
Add flour and salt. Add the flour — no need to measure accurately here — and salt, and give it a swishing with a fork until mostly uniform in color.
Add olive oil and egg. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the egg and olive oil. Using a fork, start whisking together the egg and olive oil, gradually incorporating flour until it looks quite ragged. Switch to your fingertips and work in more flour to form a dough.
Add water. As you work in the flour, you’ll have to add water by sprinkling it across the flour and mixing it in. Work the dough and add water until you have a stiff but pliable dough. It shouldn’t be sticky, nor should it be difficult to make an indentation with your finger.
Knead. Turn the dough onto a clean work surface and knead for about 5 minutes. We count off strokes as we knead because our pace is such that 300 strokes is about 5 minutes. The dough should be mostly smooth at this point. It’s most important that the dough is uniform throughout.
Rest. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it stand for about 30 minutes. You can let it stand longer, and, if you need to, you can refrigerate the dough for about a day. Remember to let the dough warm to room temperature (about an hour) before rolling and cutting.
Roll and cut. We use a hand-cranked pasta machine to roll and cut our pasta, but we’ve rolled pasta with a rolling pin, too. The pasta machine just makes it faster. Divide the dough into four pieces (easier to handle), and roll it out to about 1/8 inch (widest setting). Fold in thirds and roll again. Do this rolling, folding, and re-rolling several times to make the dough pliable, then start rolling the dough thinner and thinner, until it’s as thin as you’d like. Repeat with the remaining dough. A tip: let the rolled dough rest for a few minutes after rolling, then roll again to get it even thinner. Once rolled, cut into desired shapes.
Dry. Let the pasta dry until you’re ready to use it by placing it on a cooling rack covered with a clean towel.
Boil. Remember that fresh pasta takes much less time to cook, often only a few minutes. So, when you’re ready, bring several quarts of water to a boil, add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and boil the pasta to desired tenderness.
We knew the porcini flavor would be muted in this pasta; it’s just a combination of the small amount that we used and the boiling of the pasta that leaches out some of the flavor, so we had our fettuccine with a simple butter and poppy seed sauce, and a dusting of sea salt. The pasta flavor is muted, but it does add a slight earthiness from the porcini, and, like all scratched pasta, it’s far better than the dried. That said, we really don’t think that anyone paying $17.99 per pound would be impressed, but, at the cost of the raw ingredients and 15 minutes of work, we think you might be impressed with this pasta, especially when paired with a light and delicate sauce so the porcini flavor can shine. Five stars.